Tuesday, January 31, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 31 Jan 2017

Jesus said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. 
Mark 5. 39,40

The world may often laugh at our faith, especially faith in the face of adversity. But if you hold fast to it, it will bring you safe through any storm.

Monday, January 30, 2017

prayer diary Monday 30 Jan 2017

The man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus … said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.’ 
Mark 5. 18,19

Often when we seek to follow the Lord, we think it is for us to decide how it is that we will serve him. But his plans for us may be quite different. And if we are truly followers of his, then we will be obedient to his will.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

suffering and the sermon on the mount

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.

Our Gospel reading today concerns our Lord's Sermon on the Mount, also referred to as the Beatitudes. His words on that occasion are considered by many to be the most sublime teaching of a body of teaching that is itself incomparably sublime. It is also amongst the most challenging of our Saviour's teaching. It is not for nothing that Winston Churchill, a man known for his penetrating and analytical mind, said that the British Empire could not have lasted a week if it were run on the principles of the Beatitudes. He spoke truly indeed; for the words our Lord spoke on that day were not directed toward the ordering of the kingdoms of this world, but rather of the kingdom of Heaven. They were the principles that a Godly people and the individuals who make up that Godly people are called to live by; and such values do not fit easily with the values of a secular society, a society that thinks only of things that relate to this life and has no regard at all of what the implications of how a person lives in this life has for what their fate will be in the next.

Indeed, it is important to note that the blessedness of which Jesus speaks does not infer reward in this life but the next. Those who are meek – which does not mean, by the way, being some kind of a shrinking violet, a person who will not challenge anything that anyone else has to say or will endure any kind of maltreatment without a murmur, but rather refers to being slow to anger and treating others with gentleness – are not going to become some form of temporal ruler … Christ clearly is not speaking here of the physical world; rather this is to be understood as referring to a far greater reward, one that will last longer than any earthly kingdom, the kingdom of heaven. What is to be received for those who live in accordance with the Beatitudes is to be seen in that spiritual sense, as being, like the pearl of great price Jesus spoke of in the parable, the great reward of eternal life.

All, that is, until we come to the end. And then these precepts, which are already a great challenge, become even more challenging, because they warn us of what we can expect in this life for trying to live in conformity with the beatitudes that have gone before: Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.'
There are some scholars who suggest that these last verses are not part of the original teachings of our Lord. I, however, am not persuaded. This is because it seems to me that without them the beatitudes would be incomplete. They would be a call to holiness of life – but a call that lacks any notion of what the cost of that holiness, the cost of discipleship entails. Christ told us told that those who would follow him must deny themselves and take up their cross; and he gave the ultimate example of what suffering in the name of fidelity to God means by his own passion and death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. No one, I think, would consider it appropriate to try and strip away the costs that come with being a follower of Jesus are from the rest of the Gospel; and therefore neither do I think it appropriate to try and strip them from the Beatitudes either. For as St Paul tells us, while the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, that is those who see life only in worldly terms, but to us who are being saved, those who will accept Christ's word as truth and live it out in their lives, it is the power of God – the power that leads to eternal life.

We might wonder why it is necessary that discipleship have a cost. Why, we may ask ourselves must there be a personal cross? Why is it not enough to live a holy life without their also being suffering in this life to accompany it? Here are two answers to that question. The first is that there is real evil in the world; and evil hates holiness. And it places suffering in the path of all who would walk in the way of Christ as a way of tempting us from that way. Our mortal bodies shrink from pain and discomfort; our need to be liked makes us tremble to face the disapproval of others – a disapproval that the world is all too ready to bring to bear upon those who choose holiness over the ways of the world. A second reason is that perseverance in the face of suffering and persecution helps bring others to faith. It was not by chance that Tertullian in the early days of Christianity said that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church. Watching Christians being willing to suffer and die for their faith convinces others of its truth in a way that no other witness can. Indeed, the records we have of the deaths of the martyrs are replete with accounts of those watching them die being converted by the manner in which they went willingly to their deaths. Sometimes even their very executioners, having struck fatal blow after fatal blow, cast down their swords and declared themselves Christians as a result of what they had seen … even though they knew there were others standing nearby who would take up their weapons from the ground and strike them down with them in their turn.

But, as I draw to a close, let us not think so much as the cost as the reward. The word that our Lord uses again and again in the Sermon on the Mount is 'blessed' – emphasising again and again that this holiness of life to which all Christians are called ends in heaven for all who live it. This makes the cost of discipleship as of nothing in comparison; and therefore I pray that all here will find the grace and the strength to pay it … winning eternal life not only for themselves as a result; but by the example of their holy living leading others to it as well. Amen.  

Saturday, January 28, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 28 Jan 2017

'I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep ' 
John 10. 14,15

True intimacy is to be found in relationship with Christ; to be known by him is to be truly known. And it is a relationship that cannot disappoint, because it is one that Christ was willing to die to sustain.

Friday, January 27, 2017

prayer diary Friday 27 Jan 2017 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how … But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’ 
Mark. 4. 26-29

God's kingdom will come whether you share in the work or not. When the harvest comes will you be gathered in with the ripe grain or cast aside?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 26 Jan 2017

Jesus said to them, ‘Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand?' 
Mark 4.21

You are not being humble if your idea of humility involves neglecting to do God's work in the world; it is all right to 'shine' as long as it is done for the glory of God, rather than self.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

prayer diary Wednesday 25 Jan 2017 (Conversion of St Paul)

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. 
Matthew 19.29

Consider all that St Paul gave up for the sake of the Gospel; can you not even give up a fraction as much both to win others for Christ and eternal life for yourself?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 24 Jan 2017

And looking at those who sat around him, Jesus said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’ 
 Mark 3. 34, 35

To follow Christ is to be offered intimate relationship with him. But that relationship can only be achieved by obedience to the will of God.

Monday, January 23, 2017

prayer diary Monday 23 Jan 2017

Jesus said: 'If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.' 
Mark 3. 24, 25

The Church is full of many divisions. And while we struggle against ourselves, who is fighting to bring the Good News to others?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity address

May my words be in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Good evening. I'd like to begin by thanking your parish priest for his kind invitation to address you all this evening; and for your even kinder attention to my few words. I am here, of course, because this is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This spiritual endeavour is now over 100 years old, having been begun in the time of Pope Pius the Tenth. It might seem strange, looking back now, that this ecumenical prayer movement began on the watch of a man whom history remembers, if his Wikipdedia page is to be believed, as one who vigorously opposed what he termed 'modernism' and instead promoted traditional devotional practices and orthodox theology. But perhaps it may be said with the benefit of hindsight that his vision of better ecumenical relations between Christians of various traditions achieved through prayer was prophetic.

Many in his day realised that secular influences in society were on the increase; but few foresaw how prevalent they would become and how they would serve to undermine Christian values within the Western world – a society, it should be noted, that was founded upon the values of the Christian faith. Perhaps Pope Pius understood the dangers more clearly than most – and understood that the day would come when it was important for Christians to work together to fight the dangers that faced them all.

Certainly much has been achieved over the course of the last century that to bring Christians together. Sadly there still exists parts of the world where one type of Christianity fights against another; but thankfully that has become so rare as to make it remarkable. And this is good, because we live in a time when the external threats to the faith on a world-wide basis have never been greater than at any time since the bad days of the Roman Empire. The persecution of Christians around the world is rampant. And figures from Open Doors, a charity that tracks the persecution of Christians around the world, show the problem is getting worse not better. Another charity, International Christian Concern, lists 100 countries around the world where this is a serious issue. To try and put that number in context, that is more than half of the countries in the world.

There are problems in the West also. For example, whoever would have thought that faith schools in this country, that have generously welcomed through their doors children from all backgrounds for generations, would be condemned in the media for practising unjust discrimination for wishing to make sure that the children from their own faith communities, the communities these schools were founded to serve, were given priority when there were not sufficient places in those schools for all who might want one? Or that the day would arise when the right of faith communities to have denominational schools was publicly called a breach of human rights – arguing that they should be replaced with schools that promote the ethos they themselves advocate, secularism?

These are but a few of the issues that face Christians; and which can be better dealt with if all Christians, whatever their tradition, deal with them in solidarity. Christ, we know, established but one Church – something we affirm every time when we say in the Creeds that we believe in a Church that is One. And Christ, we know from Chapter 17 of St John's Gospel, prayed that his followers would be one, even as he and the Father were One. We may live out what our Lord asked of us in this imperfectly; but even so surely we are less imperfect when we work together on the issues that affect us as brothers and sisters in Christ.

So, as I end, I suggest that we ought be doubly grateful to Pope Pius for introducing this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. First, naturally, because it is the reason that we come together this night in prayer and fellowship. And secondly because it makes is easier for us to work together as Christians to resist those forces that threaten our faith within our society – and perhaps, indeed, our society because they weaken the values upon which it is based. Even so, my prayer, as I finish, is that the day when come when the need for such a week as this has ended, because our prayers have been answered, and we are truly United in Christ. Amen.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 21 Jan 2017

When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ 
Mark 3. 21

Opposition from loved ones 
can be especially painful when it comes to living out the truth of the Gospel. However, it was a difficulty Christ warned us we would face; and one he knew himself from personal experience.

Friday, January 20, 2017

prayer diary Friday 20 Jan 2017 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

He went up the mountain and ... he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message and … then he went home. 
Mark. 13-19

We think of Christ's ministry of 
wandering from town to town. We can forget that he had a place that he called home. We all need a quiet place where we can 'get away from it all' for a while, no matter how brief. Leisure is a gift from God and to be enjoyed – as long as it doesn't become the focus of your life.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 19 Jan 2017

Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God!’ 
Mark 3.11

Even those in the thrall of the evil one were forced to admit who Christ was. But, as our Lord asked Peter, 'Who do you say that he is?'

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

prayer diary Wednesday 18 Jan 2017

They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ 
Mark 3. 2,3

Those who put their head above the parapet in any way can expect others to look for the chance to criticise and accuse. Christ faced down such as these head on: do ye likewise.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 17 Jan 2017

Jesus said: ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath;so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.’ 
Mark 2. 27,28

From the beginning the Sabbath was a day both for giving thanks to the Lord and for the resting of our bodies. How different is your Sunday from the other six days of the week?

Monday, January 16, 2017

prayer diary Monday 16 Jan 2017

Jesus said: 'The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.' 
Mark 2.20

Jesus reminds us that making sacrifices is part of the Christian life. What do you do to show sorrow for your sins, to grow in the spiritual life, or give thanks to God for all that he has given you?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

behold the lamb of God

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

OurGospel reading shows St John the Baptist declaring that Jesus is the Lamb of God. The scripture readings we have in our services Sunday by Sunday are, of course, small fragments taken from the whole. And it is therefore generally useful to look at the passages that come both before and after in order to get a clearer understanding of what they are telling us by placing them in their immediate context. This Sunday in particular I think there is much to be learned by looking more closely at the context in which our reading is set.

So what comes before the cousin of our Lord's declaration? St John the Evangelist first tells us of how the religious leaders of the day came to the Baptist and asked him if he were the Messiah or perhaps one of the great prophets returned. And he emphatically rejects that suggestion, saying that he is merely the one who prepares the way for the Messiah, one who is greater than he, one whose sandal he is not fit to untie. Next we come to our passage for today, where St John both identifies Jesus as the one he was preparing the way for and explains how he knew who he was: he had seen the Holy Spirit descending upon him from heaven from above – the very sign he had been told by God to expect. Still dealing with today's reading, on the following day the Baptist again points Jesus out to people; and this time some of his disciples leave him to instead follow Jesus. One is St Andrew, who will become one of the Apostles. They in turn bring more people to Jesus who also become his followers. St Andrew brings his brother Simon, whom our Lord names Peter. He, of course, we know will not only become an Apostle but he leader of the Apostles. And then in the passage that follows, the other bookend to our reading for today, more of St John's followers become followers of Jesus: first St Philip, whom Jesus personally calls; and then Nathaniel, whom Philip goes and brings the one he knows to be the Christ.

So if we were to give a very brief summary of these three passages, it would be something like: St John is asked if he is the Messiah and says he is not; he points out to others who the Messiah is; and these others leave the Baptist in order to follow the Christ. It is very much along the lines of what St John prophesied later, that he must grow less even as the one he prepared the way for grew greater.

But let us consider the temptation faced by St John in the first passage. He has a great many followers. Many wonder if he might be the Messiah. The religious leaders have come to him to ask him this very question. What if he were to say 'yes' to their questions, affirm their suspicions, and claim to be the long-awaited Messiah? He is already doing good work, with so many coming to him and repenting of their sins as a result; could he not do even better work if they thought he was the Messiah? More would come, more would repent; surely that would be a good thing? Would not the lie be worth the result?

A great temptation surely. One would almost wonder if Satan himself did not put it into the minds of the religious leaders to ask him the question for this very reason, to persuade the holy man that God's work would be advanced by such a deception. But the holy man knew that only the truth, the full truth, serves God. And so he resists the temptation, even though he knows it will cause him to lose many followers and grow less in the eyes of the world. Because the salvation of souls does not lie in deception but in Truth. And truth is not to be distorted.

This is a mistake that many make today. They think that what the Church has always taught must be changed for the modern ear, that the teachings must be made to conform with the expectations of the world around us. This a huge error, because the truth does not change; and therefore as God's people we are called to make the world conform to what the Church teaches, not make Church teaching conform to what the world wants. Some think they will make what the Church teaches more relevant by bringing it more closely into line with the values of the world; but the fact is they only make it less relevant because who needs a Church that simply confirms that whatever they want to do is right, that agrees with on every point, that never challenges them in any way to lead the life we see Christ calling us to in the Gospels? The answer is, of course, no one.

And this is why St John resisted the temptation to place earthly glory for himself by falsely donning the mantle of the Messiah and instead stuck to the plain but hard truth. The irony is, if he had yielded to the temptation he would be largely forgotten. Outside of the Gospels he is remembered only in what is essentially a footnote in a work by the Jewish historian Josephus; and the only reason anyone reads it today is because of its associations with the gospel message. Had he gone down the false road of such a temptation there might be a handful of historians specialising in that era who had ever heard his name; there would have been no lasting fame or glory in yielding. But that is always the way of what Satan offers. He is the father of lies; and all one every gets for dealing with him is misery. But St John did not yield. He kept to the truth, even though he knew he would grow less in the eyes of the world as a result. And his name has shone done the ages, immortalised in the pages of the Gospels and in the hearts of Christians. And, more importantly, his fidelity won him the glory of being a saint in heaven. It is that glory that all here should hope for; but it is a glory that can only be won by faith to the word of Christ whatever the cost. I pray that all here will be able to pay that price; for however much it seems, it as nothing when one considers that what buys is eternal life in heaven. Amen. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 14 Jan 2017

‘Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’ 
Mark 2. 16,17

Christ is the physician of our souls, who came to heal all of their sins. But before we can be healed, we must accept that we, like all others, are sinners, and cry out to him for his mercy.

Friday, January 13, 2017

prayer diary Friday 13 Jan 2017 (Day of Discipline and Self-denial)

Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”? 
Mark 2.9

Those who doubted in Christ's power to forgive sins were met with an indisputable display of his authority. We now must trust in his power and call upon him to save us from our sins.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 12 Jan 2017

A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ 
Mark 1. 40, 41

The Lord looks upon us in all our weaknesses and infirmities with mercy and compassion. He who sincerely calls upon him for the healing and forgiveness of their sins will never be disappointed.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

prayer diary Wednesday 11 Jan 2017

Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 
Mark 1. 30,31

Christ heals us of all the evils of this world. The natural response to all he does for us is to serve him will all our heart, mind, body, and soul.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 10 Jan 2017

They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ 
Mark 1. 27

None of the dark powers can resist Jesus' authority. If you trust fully in him as you turn from your life of sin your faith will be rewarded.

Monday, January 9, 2017

prayer diary Monday 9 Jan 2017

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ 
Mark 1. 14, 15

Jesus begins his ministry with a call to repentance. To repent means to turn away from and reject completely the old life of sin. Remember that as you daily answer his call to follow him.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

the baptism of our Lord

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

On the first Sunday after the Epiphany it is traditional to look at the baptism of our Lord. It might seem strange to do this so soon after Christmas when we have been focused so deeply on the scriptural accounts of the birth of our Lord. However, we simply follow the example of the Gospel in doing so; for you will note in your reading of scripture that those accounts go from the details of the incarnation and nativity of Christ to his baptism and ministry.

It should therefore be no surprise that the Church does likewise in her selection of readings for the lectionary. And not only does she follow the example in scripture in doing this; but a deep theological point is made also. Christ came into the world for the salvation of souls; and it serves us well to remind ourselves of this at all times. The work of Christ was not finished when he came into the world; and reminding ourselves of this by looking to the event that begins his time of ministry in the Gospels is a powerful way of making sure that we do not let our focus become too one-dimensional, concentrating on only one aspect of his life.

And it is interesting to note that the topic of baptism essentially bookmarks our Lord's ministry in St Matthew's Gospel, from which our reading is taken today. Indeed, the first words he speaks and the last in that Gospel concerns baptism. His first words are spoken to St John the Baptist, are to tell him that in order for all righteousness to be fulfilled it is necessary that he baptise the Christ, even though St John realises that it is he who should be baptised by Christ. And his last are spoken to his disciples just before his Ascension, commanding them to go out into the world, preaching the Gospel to all peoples and baptising them in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This serves to emphasise the importance our Lord placed on baptism in God's plan for the salvation of mankind. And it is always good for us to think deeply on those things which our Lord emphasised to us during his ministry.

Indeed, so important did he think baptism that he underwent it himself. Clearly baptism, which washes away all sins, whether original or those we have committed ourselves, was something of which he had no need, being like us in all things except sin. But he wished to set us an example. It is as if he says to us – I, the Son of God, do this; and so therefore must you. Christians down through the ages have, of course, taken his words to heart. Not only are all Christians baptised, we are baptised during infancy. There are some who have objected to that, claiming that it is something a person should decide for themselves. But it is a false argument. It would be unnatural for a parent to wait until their child was fully grown before teaching them the skills they need to navigate this world; why on earth should we expect them to delay when it comes to matters pertaining to eternal life?

Now, of course, we may wonder, since baptism washes away all sin, why do we not wait until much later in life to baptise, and thereby take advantage of the benefits of this sacrament to rid a person of all the stains of a long and sinful life, perhaps even delaying until shortly before death, so as to assure that person that they will be welcomed into heaven? And the answer to that is that, as Christ himself told us, we know not the day nor the hour when we will be called before the judgement throne.

In any event, we know from scripture that it is part of God's plan that parents bring their children for such initiation at a young age. Christ himself, we may note, was circumcised as an infant; and circumcision was the equivalent initiation rite for the Jewish people as baptism is for us. And we also know that baptism is not the only means Christ gave us for the forgiveness of sins – those who truly repent of their sins of both commission and omission, in thought and word and deed, may confess their sins and receive absolution, which in a way refreshes the cleansing of sins received in our baptisms.

Soon, we will be renewing the promises or vows made at our baptisms. They were made for us when we were baptised as infants; and ourselves if we were baptised at a later age and made again at the time of our confirmation. The sacrament of baptism may not, of course, be repeated; but by reflecting deeply on those vows as we make them, we may enter into the spirit of that great sacrament given to us by our Lord. Doing so may help us reflect on the many ways in which we have less than perfectly kept them during the course of our lives; this may also help us to truly repent and ask God's pardon for those failings; and also ask his continuing grace to better keep them for the remainder of our lives. Thus we end this morning by praying to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that we may be granted true contrition for our failures and the strength to do better in the future, that we may better follow the example of our Lord, and better live out the promises made in baptism. Amen. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

prayer diary Saturday 7 Jan 2017

From that time Jesus began to proclaim 'repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.' 
Matthew 4. 17

The kingdom of heaven is ever near, both in the time of Christ and now. And because of that the need for repentance, the need to turn away from all that would separate us from God, is just as great as ever.

Friday, January 6, 2017

the Epiphany

The story of the Magi is one that continues to be much loved. At a recent children's service I asked the children to name, in order, the people and creatures around the manger. 'The wise men!' someone shouted out excitedly each time. They really seemed to be among the favourite characters in the story. But there is much for us to ponder over in the story of these men and much for us to learn. Here are three simple thoughts that occur to me concerning them. 

The first is that the star that they saw was visible to many, but they were the only ones that followed. Some failed to understand its significance through ignorance; others through a hardness of heart - they had an inkling as to what it meant but simply did not want to know. 
Next, these men whether they were merely magi - wise men or scholars - or the kings of tradition, were busy people with many demands upon their time. Yet they left it all behind to follow a star. They had their priorities in the right order. They understood that all the other things of their life had to take second place to this revelation from God. Finally, the journey they undertook was a dangerous one. Travel in the ancient world was not the easy thing it is today. There were bandits and robbers everywhere and these magi with their treasure chests would have been tempting targets. These men knew the dangers - they would hardly be worthy of the title of 'wise' if they did not know something so basic about the world they lived in - but they traveled anyway. No earthly risk was sufficient to dissuade them.

The lessons for us from these three simple points are obvious enough. Ignorance and hardheartedness, of course, remain problems when it comes to the faith today. Many let their worldly cares get between them and their spiritual duties. And others back away at even the hint of some kind of temporal danger ... even if it is the disapproval of those whose good opinion they should more rightly disdain. 

The children who loved the story so much will not, of course, have thought about the lessons that the magi still teach us. But perhaps they understand what their story offers us intuitively? They were men of courage who left everything and faced great danger in order to follow a star. In an age that is blind to so much that truly matters their clear-sightedness is an example for us all to follow, whether we are child or adult. 

prayer diary Friday 6 Jan 2017 (The Epiphany of our Lord to the Gentiles)

On entering the house they saw the child with his mother Mary; and they knelt and paid him homage. 
Matthew 2. 11

The message of the Messiah is for all. But who are the gentiles of our age? Do they not live among us, unbelievers in Christ, whether they are those who have fallen away from the faith or have yet to hear his word? And we are the ones who must bring then to the Lord so that they too may kneel and pay him homage.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

prayer diary Thursday 5 Jan 2017

And Nathaniel said to him: 'Can any thing of good come from Nazareth? Philip said to him: Come and see.' 
John 1. 46

Christians are called to share the Gospel with others. It does not matter if they are friend or foe. It does not matter if they are an atheist or a devout believer of some other faith. For there is only one Truth; and all must be afforded the opportunity to know it.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

prayer diary Wednesday 4 Jan 2017

When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them 'What are you looking for?' 
John 1. 37

What are you seeking as you follow Christ? Think what the disciples who followed him that day found: a hard road, the challenge to spread the Gospel to all the world, and a martyr's death. God calls you to such a life also – and in return offers life everlasting.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

prayer diary Tuesday 3 Jan 2017

John said: 'Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.' 
John 1. 29

Christ was made flesh, suffered, and died to save you from your sins. Knowing that, you must now play your part in bringing that Good News to all people, so that they also may behold the Lamb of God.

Monday, January 2, 2017

prayer diary Monday 2 Jan 2017

The Word became flesh and lived among us. 
John 1. 14

This is the central mystery of our faith. From it all else flows. God himself became man for our sake. If you truly know this in your heart, then obedience to his will in every aspect of your life is the only response you can make.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

the Blessed Virgin pondered these things in her heart

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is New Year's Day and so I say to you again 'Happy New Year!' Hopefully that loud shout won't have disturbed too many heads that are sore from toasting in the New Year last night. But, of course, if you did have one or two drinks last night, that is understandable. It is traditional to have a few libations on the last night of the year to welcome in the one that is to come. There are other traditions associated with this time of year as well. There is the looking back over the year that has gone by; and there is the making of resolutions for the year to come. It is, in a way, a time for thinking, for pondering the past and pondering the future.

So it is interesting that we see the Blessed Virgin Mary also pondering in our Gospel reading this morning*. She is pondering the things the shepherds have told her and keeping them in her heart. And we know that this is not all she pondered. St Luke again tells us she is keeping these things in her heart after the Holy Family returns to Nazareth after the finding of our Lord as a young boy in the Temple. The context on that occasion suggests that she is pondering all the details of our Lord's life to date. And how much she had to ponder! Her encounter with an angel and her miraculous virginal conceiving; her chaste spouse Joseph's own many angelic visitations in his dreams; the visit of the wise men; and so much more.

And we might note here that she was not simply just a mother storing up memories of her little boy's childhood, as any mother would naturally do. This was the Mother of God thinking deeply about incidents in the life of the Word made Flesh. When we reflect on these passages we call what we are doing reflecting on the word of God as it is written in the Gospels; and so when we are told that the Blessed Virgin is pondering on these incidents we are being told that she was pondering deeply about the Good News brought into the world by her son, the Son of God.

Think about that for a moment. Mary, the Blessed Virgin, the mother of God, is shown to us in the Gospels pondering the message of the Gospels. This is the one whom the angel Gabriel saluted in the first chapter of St Luke's gospel with the words 'Hail, full of grace.' I know more modern translations prefer to render that as 'greetings, highly favoured one.' But frankly I do not think that a particularly accurate way of translating it. I have two main reasons for saying that. The first is that St Jerome when he produced his first translation of the Gospels from Greek into Latin in the fifth century, the version of the Bible that was the standard for the Western Church for almost a thousand years, rendered the term as 'plena gratia' or 'full of grace' which plainly shows that of all the possible ways of rendering he considered that this was the most accurate. We must remember that he was one of the foremost scholars of his age and someone who spoke both Latin and the Greek used in the Scriptures as living languages; if he thought the phrase 'full of grace' best conveyed the true meaning of the original then we must attach enormous weight to his opinion on the matter. My second reason for thinking 'highly favoured' is wrong is that when he later uses much the same word in chapter two of his Gospel, at verses 40 and 52, these same translations are quite happy to render it as grace; and similarly when St John uses the word several times in first chapter of his Gospel it is always translated by the English word 'grace.' Simple consistency therefore suggests when it is used in relation to the Blessed Virgin it should also be translated thus.

It may seem I am labouring the point. But it is for a reason: the Mother of God, the one whom the Archangel Gabriel, God's own messenger declared as being full of grace, thought it worthwhile to ponder in her heart the Gospel message. We who are followers of her Son, and his brothers and sisters by virtue of our baptisms, ought to follow her example and do likewise. But how can you ponder what you do not know? So at this time of year when we traditionally look back, perhaps it would be advisable to look back over your own spiritual practices of the year gone by and honestly assess if a sufficient part of them been devoted to the study of Sacred Scripture. I know all lead busy lives; but surely 15 minutes a day could be found … at which pace, I might add, a person might well read the entire Bible over the course of a year. Perhaps I could even suggest it to all here as a New Year's resolution to do so? Ignorance of Scripture is, as that same St Jerome I mentioned earlier once famously remarked, is ignorance of Christ. So the reading of Scripture helps us to know him better, equips us to ponder the meaning of his life and his teaching for each and everyone of us, and, by helping us to better keep of his law, better prepare ourselves of gaining what all Christians hope for – eternal life with Christ in heaven. Surely, therefore, a new year's resolution worth making and keeping. But whatever your own particular resolution or resolutions may be this year, I pray that 2017 will be a year that is filled with hope, happiness, and holiness for you all … even as I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen. 

*Luke 2. 15-21And it came to pass, after the angels departed from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another: Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word that is come to pass, which the Lord has showed to us. And they came with haste; and they found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. And seeing, they understood the word that had been spoken to them concerning this child. And all that heard, wondered; and at those things that were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God, for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. And after eight days were accomplished, that the child should be circumcised, his name was called Jesus, which was called by the angel, before he was conceived in the womb.